Jean-Luc Godard has, in my opinion, made five perfect films. Chronologically, this is the second of those five.
The first was 23 years earlier. In 1962, Vivre sa vie let a 22-year-old Anna Karina shine as never before. After a proverbial 40 days in the deserts of Varèse-like experimentation, Godard emerged to string together a series of films which paved the way for the style in which he continues to direct till this day. Nevertheless, Je vous salue, Marie towers above the “middle quartets” which precede it. Truly, this is one of the finest films ever to be made.
It is also a particularly difficult film to review as its history is laden with controversy. Godard, ever the rebel, chose to retell the story of the Virgin Mary in a modern setting. No doubt the sincerity of Godard was misinterpreted by many Catholics as blasphemy.
The key to understanding this film is watching the whole thing. If you are offended, try to make it to the end. Perhaps the method of storytelling will then make more sense.
It must, however, be admitted that Godard’s take on the Annunciation and birth of Jesus is highly mystical. It is like the music of Olivier Messiaen. Dissonance is a gift from God. To hear the works of Messiaen is to hear devotion expressed in a highly unique way. My guess is that the great French Catholic composer might have appreciated Godard’s timeless creation under review. Perhaps even the current Pope Francis might sympathize with the heartfelt offering of Godard.
In 1985, this film was positively scandalous. What a shame…
Continuing with our musical history lesson, one must only consider the great Handel (composer of Messiah). Handel was reputedly able to curse proficiently in German, Italian, and English. Handel was not a saint, yet he composed a tremendous amount of sublime religious music (including the aforementioned oratorio).
It makes me wonder about the great artists like Michelangelo (whose Creation of Adam graces the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel). Was Michelangelo a particularly pious man? I have no clue. But it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he was colorful in ways other than with his palette.
But Godard committed the greatest sin. He let life enter his art. God forbid that life and praise for the divine coexist in a single creation!
But let us return. This was Myriem Roussel’s film. It is the finest performance by an actress not named Anamaria Marinca or Dorotheea Petre ever committed to film. Saoirse Ronan is still waiting for the right vehicle. Hanna was frighteningly close. Going back further I would nominate Lauren Bacall, but her range was curtailed somewhat by typecasting.
And so Myriem Roussel. Godard. The sublime. Every shot in this film is perfect. Every element is precisely placed. It is intelligent design embodied.
I cannot begin to scratch the surface of this gem. My lead is no match for this diamond. No matter how much I scribble, it will not be enough.
This film will endure long after everything is gone. Je vous salue, Jean-Luc.